Accelerated Development of Cat@MOF catalysts for Industrially Relevant Hydrogenation

Lead Research Organisation: Imperial College London
Department Name: Chemistry


Catalytic hydrogenations have widespread industrial applications, and it is estimated that 10-20% of all reactions used today in the production of chemicals are catalytic hydrogenations. This project targets a new family of Cat@MOF catalysts for these important transformations, based upon the incorporation of homogeneous hydrogenation catalysts (Cat) into the pores of heterogeneous metal organic framework (MOF) materials. These constructs have been shown to possess significant benefits over existing catalysts in term of improved activity, better/alternative selectivity, and ease-of-use / separation. A large novel library of Cat@MOF materials will be assembled by combining existing homogeneous hydrogenation catalysts with well-known isoreticular MOF families (in which the metal and organic connectors can be readily modified whilst maintaining the same MOF topology and structure). These new catalysts will be initially screened and optimised using automated high throughput methodology. The best performing Cat@MOF materials will be upscaled and built into new flow reactors, with initial studies focusing upon their application for the hydrogenation of bio-derived and waste feedstocks such as levulinic acid and carbon dioxide to yield value-added chemicals.

Planned Impact

Academic impact:
Recent advances in data science and digital technology have a disruptive effect on the way synthetic chemistry is practiced. Competence in computing and data analysis has become increasingly important in preparing chemistry students for careers in industry and academic research.

The CDT cohort will receive interdisciplinary training in an excellent research environment, supported by state-of-the-art bespoke facilities, in areas that are currently under-represented in UK Chemistry graduate programmes. The CDT assembles a team of 74 Academics across several disciplines (Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, Bioengineering, Maths and Computing, and pharmaceutical manufacturing sciences), further supported by 16 industrial stakeholders, to deliver the interdisciplinary training necessary to transform synthetic chemistry into a data-centric science, including: the latest developments in lab automation, the use of new reaction platforms, greater incorporation of in-situ analytics to build an understanding of the fundamental reaction pathways, as well as scaling-up for manufacturing.

All of the research data generated by the CDT will be captured (by the use of a common Electronic Lab Notebook) and made openly accessible after an embargo period. Over time, this will provide a valuable resource for the future development of synthetic chemistry.

Industrial and Economic Impact:
Synthetic chemistry is a critical scientific discipline that underpins the UK's manufacturing industry. The Chemicals and Pharmaceutical industries are projected to generate a demand for up to 77,000 graduate recruits between 2015-2025. As the manufacturing industry becomes more digitised (Industry 4.0), training needs to evolve to deliver a new generation of highly-skilled workers to protect the manufacturing sector in the UK. By expanding the traditional skill sets of a synthetic chemist, we will produce highly-qualified personnel who are more resilient to future challenges. This CDT will produce synthetic chemists with skills in automation and data-management skills that are highly prized by employers, which will maintain the UK's world-leading expertise and competitiveness and encourage inward investment.

This CDT will improve the job-readiness of our graduate students, by embedding industrial partners in our training programme, including the delivery of training material, lecture courses, case studies, and offers of industrial placements. Students will be able to exercise their broadened fundamental knowledge to a wide range of applied and industrial problems and enhance their job prospects.

The World's population was estimated to be 7.4 billion in August 2016; the UN estimated that it will further increase to 11.2 billion in the year 2100. This population growth will inevitably place pressure on the world's finite natural resources. Novel molecules with improved effectiveness and safety will supersede current pharmaceuticals, agrochemicals, and fine chemicals used in the fabrication of new materials.

Recent news highlights the need for certain materials (such as plastics) to be manufactured and recycled in a sustainable manner, and yet their commercial viability of next-generation manufacturing processes will depend on their cost-effectiveness and the speed which they can be developed. The CDT graduates will act as ambassadors of the chemical science, engaging directly with the Learned Societies, local council, general public (including educational activities), as well as politicians and policymakers, to champion the importance of the chemical science in solving global challenges.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
EP/S023232/1 01/04/2019 30/09/2027
2754132 Studentship EP/S023232/1 01/10/2022 30/09/2026 Yao Tong